November 29, 2011


With the blessing of our wonderful host Lufts, we decided to leave our temporary home here in Weitsche a bit later than anticipated. We asked Marcel and Ute if we could leave our room unoccupied for the week and afford ourselves the ability to pack light for a brief exploration of a city that has long intrigued the both of us, Amsterdam. We would then return to Weitsche the following weekend in order to attend the upcoming demonstration against the nuclear waste transport coming in from France. A later entry will cover the 'Stop Castor' event, but Amsterdam came first.

The ever-efficient German trains carried us through northwestern Germany and into the darkening fog of the Netherlands. After a few transfers, we emerged out of Amsterdam Centraal station and looked for the public transport that would bring us to our hotel. We decided to avoid the hostel experience for fear of the mental state/capacity of any potential roommates in a city like Amsterdam. Instead we cashed in some credit card points and opted for the Westcord Art Hotel, an excellent and relatively cheap hotel that was well away from the central strip(s). We would recommend this place to anyone looking for such digs in Amsterdam.

We promptly found out that Sunday night was in the middle of the annual public transport workers strike and we'd have no choice but to take a cab to the outskirts, essentially ending our evening. We weren't ready for that yet, so we took to the streets immediately outside the central station and were swallowed by the massive throngs of people and the eerie fog. We ate at an overpriced Chinese restaurant, stumbled  awkward and overly-self conscious into our first coffeshop, and eventually escaped the neon chaos back to our hotel. Dave again tipped a European cab driver way too damn much.

Over the next three days we explored this insane place. We are fully aware that we saw very little of what the Netherlands are like as a whole because Amsterdam itself is filled with tourists and non-Dutch. Still though, it was a provocative and fast-paced city. There are thousands of bikes, tens of thousands surely... bikes everywhere. And everyone is riding them in and out of car and foot traffic on these bike paths, ringing their little bells if an American is walking outside the specifically-defined pedestrian lanes in their way. And no one wears helmets, it's amazing. We actually conducted an informal experiment to count bike helmets and for the following 2 days of our stay we saw, to our increasing surprise, exactly zero helmets on bicyclists, and only 4 helmets in total if we included motorized bikes (mopeds, vespas). Also, few had a multi-gear bike. They were all these old clunkers that had one gear, many of them modified to hold up to 3 children. A fascinating thing to see, and very different.

We saw several great museums. We both stared in awe at Rembrandts' and Monets' masterpieces in the Rijksmuseum and saw the classic self-portraits at the Van Gogh Museum. We were somewhat disappointed with the Dutch Resistance Museum. It had plenty of buttons that did nothing when pushed, weird, dated exhibits that seemed to be made in the 1980's, and much of the verbage about Dutch resistance did not translate very well. On the other end of the spectrum we saw the infamous Red Light district, which was exactly what it had been made out to be and ultimately seemed somewhat bored with itself. One underwear clad woman was eating a box of chinese food in her window, looking unimpressed. Granted, we were there at about 3pm but definitely not something we've often seen. 

There were plenty of fascinating bars and restaurants and coffeeshops with true character, and we left the city feeling satisfied and ready to be gone. Amsterdam was a great place to visit. That dark and foggy night when we first wandered out of Centraal station, right into the thick of it and in the midst of a transit strike, will surely be a lasting memory from this trip.

You'll see a lot of this in Amsterdam... tourists with maps, identifying landmarks.
Christina in front of the Rijksmuseum, housing the Dutch masters.
Amsterdam Centraal Station. Note the bikes.

The main street leading out from Amsterdam Centraal Station.
Amsterdam's architecture was impressive. A large number of canals form concentric rings around the city.

You are rarely more than a shady side-street away from a coffeeshop. They only serve juice and coffee in these shops, never alcohol, which is probably a good idea.
A common bike modification that we saw. Groceries, kids... anything could go in that front cabin, though obviously if it was kids there were no helmets. 

A cool vegetable market that lined a canal, leading to another famous street market at Albert Cuypstraat.
We tried to capture a shot with all the madness of Amsterdam's roads in one frame. Cars, trams, motorized bikes, regular bikes, and cowering pedestrains... and a couple dashes of white paint. 
This was nighttime and poor lighting, but this was Amsterdam's Occupy Protest.